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Last week, AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., urged congressional leaders to move quickly on the fiscal 2009 Defense Authorization and Appropriations Bills.
In a letter to the House and Senate leadership, Gen. Sullivan said, “Our ability to win the Global War on Terrorism and sustain the all volunteer force is dependent upon timely defense authorizations and appropriations. The bills must meet the Army’s baseline budget and fund the war. I stress the necessity of getting the bills to the president for signature before September 30, the end of the fiscal year.”
While the House finished its version of the authorization bill in May, debate in the Senate only started last week. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., filed cloture to end debate on the measure Friday afternoon. The Senate is scheduled to vote Tuesday afternoon on the cloture motion, which requires 60 votes to pass.
Sen. John Warner, R-Va., a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, said he believes GOP momentum is mounting to pass the bill. Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. agreed and said he is optimistic the agreement can be reached and time will be set aside to vote Tuesday on controversial amendments prior to the cloture vote.
However, is a vote tomorrow afternoon possible considering there are still 234 amendments remaining for debate? And what about the defense appropriations bill?
Senate Defense appropriators approved a $487.7 billion Pentagon spending bill last week. However, the critical legislation is currently in a holding pattern in the House because the House Appropriations Committee canceled a markup of the Defense bill last week and has not set a new date.
It is unclear when the full Appropriations committees in the House and Senate will take up the bill since Congress has indicated that it will turn to energy legislation later this week and the continuing resolution and a second economic stimulus package next week.
There are only two options – either the bill will be included in the continuing resolution or Congress will return for a lame-duck session near the end of the year. Although House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., continue to insist that a lame-duck session is not in their plans, other leaders from both sides of the aisle are starting to talk about the need for a post-election session.
In any event, the fact that we are nearing the end of the fiscal year and these two critical bills have not been passed in a time when we are at war is inexcusable.
An AUSA-supported amendment to the fiscal 2009 defense authorization bill that would repeal the offset of the military’s survivor benefit plan by the VA’s dependency and indemnity compensation was adopted by the Senate, 94-2. The amendment was introduced by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.
While this is certainly encouraging, we must remember that this is the fourth year in a row this provision has been adopted. It has never become law because it has been stripped out of the defense bill during conference with the House.
Other AUSA priorities will be debated this week, including an amendment offered by Sens. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., that would protect military beneficiaries from disproportional TRICARE fee hikes. Sen. Harry Reid’s, D-Nev., amendments that would expand concurrent receipt payments and improve Combat Related Special Compensation calculations for some Chapter 61 retirees is also up for debate.
An amendment offered by Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., that would make retroactive to Sept. 11, 2001, a provision in the fiscal 2008 Defense Authorization Bill that allows non-regular members of the Reserve Component to receive their retired pay earlier than age 60, by three months for every 90 days of continuous mobilization in support of a contingency operation or presidentially-declared stateside emergency. The legislation was originally intended to be retroactive, but the final wording in the fiscal 2008 legislation made it effective from January 28, 2008 forward.
AUSA feels very strongly about these important amendments. You can add your voice to ours. Go to the AUSA website, www.ausa.org, click on “Contact Congress”, type in your zip code beside “Elected Officials”, and scroll down to “Support Key Senate Amendments”.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the House Armed Services Committee last week that the United States has entered the “endgame” phase of the war in Iraq although “the situation remains fragile.”
Testifying Sept. 10, the day after President Bush announced a drawdown of 8,000 American combat and support forces from Iraq by January, he said that commanders there do not believe that the progress in reducing violence since the secretary took office two years ago and turning over the security of the country to Iraqi forces is necessarily enduring.
Gates cited the continuing threats to Iraqi security, especially during the upcoming provincial elections, from Jaish al Mahdi, the Shi’ia militia of Moqtada al Sadr; sectarian fighters; Iranian-backed groups; and the remnants of al Qaeda in Iraq.
While violence has declined by 80 percent from 2006, Gates said, “Political progress has been incremental.” This includes the assimilation of the largely Sunni “Sons of Iraq” into the nation’s security forces.
“The continuing but carefully modulated reductions the President has ordered, I believe, are not only the right direction but the right course of action – especially considering the planned [such as the United Kingdom] and unplanned redeployments [such as Georgia] by some of our coalition partners.”
Gates termed the risk acceptable in the drawing down of American forces to 146,000 from a surge high of 166,000
“As we proceed deeper into the endgame, I would urge our nation’s leaders to implement strategies that, while steadily reducing our presence in Iraq, are cautious and flexible and take into account the advice of our senior commanders and military leaders.” He added that lawmakers “should expect [the United States] to be involved in Iraq for years.”
With the pending change of administrations in January, he said, “The new president will have a full array of options when he takes office. There is nothing in place that would constrain the decision of a new president” on force structure and troop strength in Iraq.
“The real question is why we are not re-deploying more forces [and] putting more pressure on the Iraqis” to provide for their own security and build their political relationships, Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., and chairman, said in his opening statement.
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